10/03/11 1:00 PM ET
Konerko quietly proves he's worthy of Aaron nod
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Not just this year, but over the past couple of years as part of a potent Detroit lineup.
But when thinking about the AL's top performers with the bat for 2011 specifically, don't forget about Paul Konerko. Sure, the White Sox underachieved as a team, with their franchise-record $127 million payroll falling out of playoff contention basically by Labor Day.
Don't put those group shortcomings on Konerko, who seems to get better with age. The 35-year-old once again is the White Sox nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, a coveted honor awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in both the American League and National League.
Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years. Winners, determined through online fan voting and a select panel, including Aaron, will be announced during the World Series.
Konerko finished 2011 with 31 homers and 105 RBIs, marking the fifth season and second straight the White Sox captain has hit at least 30 homers and driven in 100 runs. He's also logged his fourth season with at least a .300 average.
This All-Star effort was made even more impressive by the fact that Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, who frequently hit behind Konerko during the 2011 campaign, did not come close to their regular high level of offensive production. Aside from Carlos Quentin, Konerko was on a run-producing island without much protection.
"He showed you how good a hitter he is," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "He was not worried about who was behind him."
With Konerko standing out as the lone offensive force for the White Sox at times, it became somewhat startling that opposing teams actually pitched to him. But the combination of Konerko's selectivity and the specter of Dunn or Rios possibly connecting kept Konerko in play.
"No matter who is behind him, he not going to chase bad pitches," Guillen said. "When you have A.J [Pierzynski], Dunn and Quentin, you still think about it, especially when you have Dunn.
"He's having a bad season, but he's always one swing away from taking care of business."
Konerko reached the personal achievements of 2,000 career hits on Aug. 23 in Anaheim and is just four homers away from 400 for his career. Konerko also homered in five straight games from June 17-21.
After suffering serious left knee/left calf pain when a 95-mph fastball struck a nerve in that area on July 31, Konerko returned after a brief three-day absence. He couldn't walk or run very well, but he still was able to serve as the designated hitter and help the White Sox cause.
Getting Konerko to talk about his accomplishments, though, won't happen until after the season is over and maybe not even at that point. Take a look at his recent assessment of reaching that 2,000-hit plateau.
"Honestly, it's one of those where it's nice, and it's nice for your friends and family," Konerko said. "But for me, you get a hit like that and the first thing I think of is, 'How the hell did Pete Rose get 4,000 hits?' That's the first thing I think of or Derek Jeter getting 3,000 -- any of those guys.
"It feels like you do this from the time you are a kid until you have a wife and kids and the whole nine yards. It seems like you do it for your whole life and for someone to have another 1,000 hits or 2,000 hits, those guys are really good, because it seems like this is all I've been doing.
"Again, it's one of those things that falls in the category of something you'll enjoy more when you are done playing. But it's cool."
Greg Walker, Konerko's hitting coach and friend, believes the first baseman is the best fastball hitter in the game. So, while Boston's Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury might have better numbers than Konerko, don't forget about the White Sox leader and primary offensive force.